Co-op Group launches social mobility impact report

‘I want the Co-op to be part of a movement for change and a catalyst for that change’

The UK’s Co-op Group has launched a Levelling Up Impact Report to assess its impact on levelling up across the country and recommend future action.

The report was developed in partnership with the Purpose Coalition and benchmarks the organisation’s work against the UK’s Levelling Up Goals. 

The goals were established by former government minister Justine Greening in 2021 with input from businesses, universities and policymakers. Developed from the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, they are designed to tackle the challenges facing the UK after Covid-19 by providing a framework for organisations to identify gaps in access to opportunity (covering key life stages from early years to adulthood), and the main areas where barriers exist that prevent people from achieving their potential. 

The new report, presented at the House of Commons on 5 July by the Group’s CEO Shirine Khoury-Haq and public affairs director Paul Gerrard, highlights the retailer’s commitment to delivering opportunity countrywide.

“It is vital that business and government work in partnership to unlock the talent that exists everywhere,” said Khoury-Haq. “We must ensure everyone, whatever their background, has the opportunity to succeed in a way that is right for them. I’m delighted that the impact the Co-op is already having in communities has been recognised in this report but we also know there is much more the Co-op, and other businesses, should do.” 

The report explores the Group’s work across all 14 goals, but highlights particular achievements against Goal 2 (Successful school years), Goal 3 (Positive destinations post-16+), Goal 4 (Right advice and experiences), Goal 8 (Good health and wellbeing), Goal 10 (Closing the digital divide) and Goal 11 (Infrastructure for opportunity). 

Examples of best practices include the schools in the organisation’s multi-academy trust, which are all guided by the same set of principles but are tailored to the needs of pupils in specific areas; its Local Community Fund supporting community projects chosen by the co-operative’s members; and its Apprenticeship Levy Share service, which enables businesses across England to pledge their unspent levy, which would have otherwise expired.

The report makes a number of recommendations for further action where the Group can extend its work, building on its existing reputation and countrywide reach. This includes setting higher standards on issues such as diversity and socio-economic reporting which could also be extended to its supply chain; enabling a more effective transition from education to work; supporting schools in social mobility cold spots; and promoting positive mental health and wellbeing and better physical health through healthier and sustainable diets.    

“I want the Co-op to be part of a movement for change and a catalyst for that change,” added Khoury-Haq. “That’s why we’re delighted to be working with This is Purpose, to lead by example and show how purpose-led businesses can pave the way.  I’m pleased to announce that the Co-op will join the new Equality of Opportunity Coalition and we’ve already started work to explore what we can do to promote socio-economic diversity within the Co-op. We commit to share our insight and next steps in early 2023.”

Co-op Group CEO Shirine Khoury Haq (2nd left) and public affairs director Paul Gerrard (right) launched the report at the House of Commons with colleagues Lorna Jones and Ali Scowen (Image: Co-op Group)

Jim McMahon MP, chair of the Co-operative Party and shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, acknowledged the role the Group has played in tackling inequality, supporting aspiration and promoting opportunity across the country. 

“I am delighted to welcome this report from the Purpose Coalition, measuring the Co-op’s activity against the 14 Levelling Up Goals and setting out how it can go even further to boost social mobility and improve equality of opportunity,” he said.  

Chair of the Purpose Coalition, Justine Greening, said that making a positive impact and creating a fairer society “is in [the Co-op Group’s] DNA”. 

She added: “[The Group] is already doing outstanding work across the country but its extensive reach and brand recognition means that it has the potential to do even more and, crucially, set a gold standard for what it means to be a purpose-led business.

“The economic and social challenges that the country is currently facing – our recovery from the pandemic and the growing pressures of the cost of living crisis – means that the role it can play on delivering social good has never been more important. The Co-op gets to the heart of what matters most in a community. Its deep knowledge of those it serves enables it to understand what they really need to thrive and their local partnerships help to deliver it. The synergy between business and community is mutually beneficial – the Co-op can focus its efforts on those who need the most help and, in return, communities receive well-targeted and tailored support that is better placed to make a difference.

“Measuring an organisation’s progress on how it is levelling up is key. It’s how things get done. As a leading member of the Equality of Opportunity Coalition, the Co-op has committed to measuring and reporting the socio-economic background of their employees as part of its wider efforts to ensure that everyone has access to opportunity, regardless of background or where they are from. It is setting an example that I hope other businesses will follow and I am looking forward to working with its leadership team to help shape the levelling up agenda.”

With thanks to Rebecca Harvey, thenews.coop

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